Beef: Even Worse Than We Thought
We all know that beef production is one of the most environmentally destructive things that humans do. A new report from Robert Goodland shows that, despite our awareness of this severity, we have still underestimated the negative impact of beef on global ecosystems. The most staggering finding is that, whereas analysts have traditionally pegged the global warming potential (GWP) of methane emitted from livestock at 21-23 times more potent than carbon, Goodland says it’s more like 72.
The gist of Goodland’s report is an attack on both the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Center for Investigative Reporting, both which have downplayed the significance of the global warming numbers. CIR, for example, has written that “Grass-fed beef does less damage to the environment.” Goodland, however, cites evidence to the contrary, arguing that grass fed cows emit 400 percent more methane than grain fed cows, a factor that helps make grass-fed beef a more climate changing product than conventionally produced grain fed beef.
It’s worth noting that Goodland, with Jeff Anhang, argue strictly from an environmental perspective. To my knowledge, they do not engage the dominant ethical questions inherent in eating animals, or spend much time debating strategies of reform. That said, they explicitly endorse reduction of meat eating as a viable way to aid the recovery of global ecosystems. “Our analysis,” writes Goodland, “explains that reducing 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives could almost fully meat international climate treaty objectives.” They admit that their recommendation is “restrained” compared to other climate experts who have “recommended vegetarianism to reverse climate change.”
Forget vegetarianism. These numbers demand that we work toward veganism. Global demand for meat is expected to increase by 68 percent in the next 15 years. Given the numbers that Goodland has unleashed, this is an absolutely terrifying prospect. The only solace one might take is that each and every one of us has the power to help change this situation by reducing and eventually giving up the habit of eating all animal products, while encouraging others—by any means necessary— to do the same.